The absurdities of Cabinet government

Last week’s cabinet reshuffle generated plenty of headlines, and architects were among the hordes to be delighted by the replacement of Michael Gove as education secretary. His replacement, Nicky Morgan, is even married to an architect!

Similarly, there is a feeling that Liz Truss at environment, however she turns out, can’t be worse than Owen Paterson, a climate-change denier who attributed his downfall in the Telecgraph largely to the power of the ‘green blob’.

Actually none of the new ministers are likely to be able to do much, because we are too close to the next general election. And, like all new cabinet ministers, they have a lot to learn. People who run successful organisations tend to have great understanding of what their organisations do, but cabinet ministers suddenly take on a new brief and are expected miraculously to understand it. This situation is made more severe by their growing distrust of civil servants.

I don’t know what the solution is, but the absurdity was highlighted by Kenneth Clarke, finally departing government after four decades. Speaking to Andrew Ranwnsley in the Observer, he said, ‘You arrive at a department you hadn’t thought you were going to get sent to. You spend the first six months faffing about. After about six months, you’ve decided you know exactly what to do. After about two years, you realise you’re screwing this up, you didn’t get it right, but now you really understand it. And then the bloody phone rings and you’re moved to another department and you go back to square one.’

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